On January 8, 2018, Randolph-Macon Academy (R-MA) welcomed Theresa (Tess) Hegedus, Ph.D., as Dean, Instructional Leadership & Innovation at the Upper School (grades 9-12). Hegedus replaces Jonathan Ezell, who has been promoted to Vice President of R-MA.
Hegedus comes to R-MA with a rich background in education. After six years as a physical therapist in Virginia, she became a substitute teacher in public and private schools in North Carolina, eventually earning her North Carolina teaching licensure. She obtained a full-time position as a middle school science teacher at Sherwood Githens Middle School in 2002, then spent the following eight years teaching seventh and eighth grade science at Triangle Day School. The students there inspired her so much that she began working towards a master’s in gifted education at Elon University.
In 2011, Hegedus completed her master’s degree at Elon, and immediately began her Ph.D. work in Science Education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, while serving as a research assistant, adjunct faculty, and teaching assistant. There she became engrossed in the research of best teaching practices, and how they could be applied in schools. She began to develop an even deeper appreciation for the depth and breadth of the teaching field.
Once she had obtained her Ph.D, Hegedus taught undergraduate and graduate courses as an Assistant Professor at High Point University in the Stout School of Education, where she also served as the Coordinator of Gifted Licensure. Over the four years she served there, from 2013 to 2017, she recognized that she had a unique vantage point: she had taught at a K-8 school, worked with adolescent youth through her research at Elon, and finally, at High Point, worked with both pre-service teachers and veteran teachers who were returning for additional education. “I felt like I was getting this ‘whole picture’ of what it means to work in education and what it means to teach for best practice,” she explained.
Once she acknowledged that fact, Hegedus tried to figure out where she could have the greatest impact, and concluded that a return to the independent school setting would be right for her. The ensuing search has led her to R-MA, where she looks forward to working with the teachers to better develop students to be “not just consumers of knowledge, but producers of knowledge.” Hegedus explained, “I think that we need to prepare them for this ever-changing, technologically evolving world.” Even at the college level, she saw students struggle to think beyond memorized answers. “Life doesn’t work that way,” she said. “Students need to be scientifically literate, digitally literate, and financially literate, poised to make critical decisions about their lives.” She pointed out that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs have become increasingly important because these disciplines serve to provide foundational knowledge that students can use to make future decisions about their lives. Ultimately, Hegedus believes in an integrated educational experience for our students to best prepare them for a successful future.
“How do we develop a student holistically, to be prepared for the world, prepared for careers that might not even yet exist ?” Hegedus asked. “I think if we cultivate disciplinary skills and practices–how to think and how to question–students can be ready for just about anything.”
Hegedus explained that the inclination to be “knowledge seekers and knowledge producers” is innate in all of us–after all, when kindergartners play, they use their imagination and creativity. Over time, though, students learn not to explore or question, but to sit and listen. Hegedus believes an educator’s mission in the 21st century should be to counter that learned behavior. “We’re unlocking what’s already there,” she said. “We need to move away from a culture of standardized testing, to focus on what’s relevant, to help students productively apply their innate abilities. They’ve got it. We just have to provide direction. We are coaches. We are facilitators. I think our role as an educator is one that allows for a collaborative learning experience.”
That “coaching” needs to take place through a variety of techniques, including project-based and problem-based learning, which will engage students’ creative imagination and innovative minds, in addition to the focus on content knowledge mastery. Hegedus said there should be a “sweet spot,” where the combination of different teaching approaches mesh just right–yet she acknowledged that what that perfect blend looks like is going to be different for each subject and teacher. “I think teachers need to have autonomy. They need to be able to explore their passions, their interests, and share that excitement with their students,” she explained.
Knowing he has left the R-MA Upper School academic program in Hegedus’ extremely capable hands, Ezell moved into the newly created position of Vice President on January 8th. Ezell taught English at the Upper School and coached several different sports from 1986-1997, then served as the Principal of the R-MA Middle School for several years before becoming the Upper School Academic Dean in 2000. His new position will allow him to re-establish relationships with many of the students who have passed through the R-MA hallways during his thirty years at R-MA.
Ezell acknowledged that social media makes it easier to “catch up” with recent alumni, but the feeling is that the Academy needs to be more deliberate in reaching out to this group. “Elite schools never lose contact with their alumni, their students, but what we haven’t done, ever, is to really hold close to us the recent alums, so that they’re always close to us,” Ezell observed. “So part of my role is to engage with all the students that I have had personal contact with.” Another part of his role, he explained, will be to work with long-term faculty such as Mr. Ed Richards and Mr. Eric Barr to reconnect with the recent alumni and communicate with them about happenings at their alma mater.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “Every day I’m making contacts.” Ezell said he re-started interacting with Facebook, which he had abandoned back in 2010, and within a week had reconnected with 500 alumni. Already, he has traveled throughout parts of Virginia to meet up with alumni. And while on campus, he has already begun making regular visits to the Middle School, where he began his administrative career.
Although Ezell said he will miss seeing the students each day and interacting with them on a regular basis, he is very excited about this new stage of his career, which will allow him to network with many of his former students and other alumni, and still remain engaged in R-MA life.
“These changes bring the right people to the right positions at the right time,” said R-MA President Brig Gen David C. Wesley, USAF, Retired. “We are excited about Dean Tess Hegedus’ experience and vision. She will propel our academic programs forward, making a great college-prep program even better. Jonathan Ezell is a visionary in his own right. His sincere and caring way of connecting with people will enhance our relationship with younger alumni/ae. These leaders and the rest of our team have the potential to make R-MA one of the best college-prep boarding schools in the nation.”